Can the sum of two things be worth more than the individual parts? In the case of solar farms and sheep, the answer is yes. The Cornelius based company, Sun Raised Foods is doing just that, using the symbiotic relationship between solar panels and sheep to raise the bar for environmentally conscious agriculture and energy practices while developing a meat product that is sustainably raised and sold.
UNC graduate Joel Olsen and his wife Tonje created Sun Raised Foods after seeing the opportunity to expand their company Sun Raised Farms into the meat market. The result was the birth of a niche food company that specializes in fresh lamb cuts and charcuterie. After rounds of testing, the product was finally put on the market in October of 2019, selling their Animal Welfare Approved meat to farm-to-table restaurants and breweries. “We believe that animals that are exposed to less stress and a healthy environment just taste better,” says Joel. “Healthy sheep create healthy food for us.”
Although animal agriculture may normally get questionable reactions in terms of environmental impact, Olsen created the company with sustainability in mind. Being based in North Carolina reduces the carbon footprint that shipping lamb from Australia and New Zealand creates, which is where 80% of the lamb consumed in the US is from. Not only that, but the sheep at Sun Raised Foods provide grounds maintenance for solar farms, which would usually be maintained with a gas-powered lawn mower. The company strives to minimize both economic and environmental costs while maximizing the value of their product.
As a small company, Sun Raised Foods has had to compete with larger, industrial-sized meat companies. These corporations tend to have reduced costs and more established customers due to their wide reach. To compete, Sun Raised Foods creates a product that is better quality and has a better taste. “People like to know where their food comes from,” explains Joel, so purchasing lamb from a company that tends to its sheep from cradle to grave ensures customers that the product is healthy and sustainable.
Right now, Sun Raised Foods sells their product in Charlotte-area restaurants and breweries as well as online on their website and on Amazon. In the future, the company wants to expand their operations to other areas of North Carolina, such as Raleigh or Greensboro, and eventually into South Carolina and Virginia. In terms of revenue, the company hopes to double their sales each year in order to grow their business sustainably. You can visit the company on their website to learn more about them, purchase products or check them out on Facebook or Instagram.
Lauren Hall, Environmental Studies, Class of 2023, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill